Flathead Lake Historic Timber

Flathead Lake Historic Timber

  • 1
  • December 7, 2014
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A LEGACY OF RESPECT AND HONOR

North American logging began along the Atlantic coast in the 1600’s and reached the Pacific coast by the mid 1800’s. Originally, timber harvest supported the mining industry and creation of towns, however as the railroads forged across the continental U.S. loggers came from many countries around the world to work. There was honor and respect in earning a living deep in the forest working in primitive lumber camps. These camps consisted of 12-man crews working to fall selected trees some 300 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter1. These timber giants were harvested during the dry months and delivered to mills through rafting them down rivers and barging them across lakes during the spring. Much of the lumber milled from these timbers in Montana was used by the Great Northern Railroad around 1900, and then sawn for sale in Hawaii, Mexico, South America and Australia *1.

*1 – Fischer, M.M. 2001. Exploring History Through Simple Recipes Nineteenth-Century Lumber Camp Cooking. Mankato, Minnesota: Capstone Press. 32 p

A HISTORY PRESERVED IN WOOD
Buried on the bottom of the largest freshwater lake in the Western US lie these old-growth giants, rich with history and color unique to Montana. At the turn of the 20th century, the Great Northern Railroad expanded west, supported by a logging industry, and the sweat of western lumberjacks. Lumber companies set up sawmills beside the waters of Flathead Lake to mill trees floating in from the Swan and Flathead Rivers. Not all logs remained afloat. Over the years, thousands of larch and pine logs sank to the bottom of the Lake. Preserved from exposure to oxygen, they were saturated with minerals and silt which dyed them black, green, violet, peach, charcoal and blue. After more than 100-years an exclusive opportunity has provided for the recovery of these magnificent timbers for a second life – Flathead Lake Historic Timber.

Flathead Lake Historic Timber Western Larch Dining Table
A UNIQUE PRODUCT AND SUSTAINABLE PROCESS
Once recovered from the lake by local divers, Flathead Lake Historic Timber is milled by Hunts Timbers in St. Ignatius, Montana. The Hunt family knows that each log, some dating back to 1535, has a story, giving each recovered board an irreplaceable personality. This special history is preserved in exceptional color, texture and quality creating one of-a-kind items ranging from cabinetry, flooring, and heirlooms to bar tops, stringed instruments and rustic mantle pieces. Flathead Lake Historic Timber is committed to maintaining an environmentally sustainable process that connects all those involved to a sense of the region’s history and place. Our salvage project is an environmentally sensitive move that focuses on a carbon-neutral, renewable resource. Additionally, the recovery of these timeless timbers has improved Flathead Lake’s ecological habitat while maintaining its pristine water quality.
BEING A PART OF THE HISTORY
The Somers sawmill burned down in 1957 and was never re-built. Through the Flathead Lake Historic Timber project we have seen a revival of the remarkable historic ties always shared between many local businesses, schools, museums, historical societies and history buffs across Montana. Some of the greatest experiences this project has seen have come from the local families who have roots in the Flathead Valley heritage and the “building” of the West.

In honor of the culture and history of these recovered trees and the men and women who dedicated their lives to bring them into Flathead Lake. We have developed a full color coffee-table book demonstrating the beauty of these timbers and the history of the Somers Sawmill (Est. 1901) and the DeVoe family. We have also crafted a fire-branded, certified and numbered decorative box exemplifying the strength and beauty of this never-to-be-seen-again wood. We welcome you to join us in celebrating this history of Montana.

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The Great Northern Railroad in the Flathead Lake valley 1891, photo courtesy of the Stumptown Historical Society.

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Somers Bay on Flathead Lake in the 1930’s. The logs floating in the bay were waiting to be sawn by the mill for railroad ties. Some of these logs would sink and become preseved by the cold waters. Over the nearly 50-years of mill operations as many as 2 million to 20 million boardfeet of lumber sank and is now being recovered. Photo courtesy of Darris Flanagan Flathead area Historian.
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One of the largest timbers recovered by our dive team to date was a 37″ dia. old-growth Western Larch or “Tamarack”. Nearly 80% of the timber recovered from the Lake is a mix of Pondersoa Pine, Western White Pine and Lodge Pole Pine…the remaining 20% is Western Larch and only 1/2 of the Larch recovered is of a quality high enough to offer our customers.

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Logs were brought to the Somers Bay as rafts floated down the Flathead and Swan Rivers during the high water flows in spring. Sometimes these rafts would form a “log jam” and the only way to release them was through dynamite. Photo courtesy of Darris Flanagan Flathead area Historian.

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Northwest Management, Inc. performes water quality and sediment sampling throughout the recovery process to ensure the maintenance and preservation of water quality within the Lake. All Flathead Historic Timber is recovered by hand with our diving team to maintain a low-impact and sustainable recovery process.
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All of the Flathead Lake products offered can be milled to specification because this wood has never been used in prior buildings or projects. This is a Circle-sawn Flathead Lake Historic Timber pine floor in Bozeman cut by Hunt’s Timbers Sawmill with an authentic 54″ diameter circle-saw blade.
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Kalispell, Montana – Daily Inter Lake article from June 1957. The morning after the Somers (DeVoe Family) sawmill was lost.
The Somers Bay sawmill was built in 1901 and cut railroad ties for the Great Northern Railway until 1948. the remaining years of operation were as a railroad tie treatment facility.
Wide Plank Pine CT 10
The Lumber cut from the Flathead Lake recovered timber are “Old-Growth” meaning the density of the wood, coloration and beauty is something not found in current forests. These traits coupled with the 100+ years of underwater preservation, has allowed the sediment and water quality of Flathead Lake to infiltrate these timbers and dye the wood a beautiful array of colors that can’t be found anywhere else.